Russia-led troops begin pullback from Kazakhstan

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Kyrgyzstan's peacekeepers of the Collective Security Treaty Organization attend the official ceremony of starting withdrawal of its troops in Almaty, Kazakhstan - Vladimir Tretyakov/NUR.KZ via AP
Kyrgyzstan's peacekeepers of the Collective Security Treaty Organization attend the official ceremony of starting withdrawal of its troops in Almaty, Kazakhstan - Vladimir Tretyakov/NUR.KZ via AP

Russian soldiers have started withdrawing from Kazakhstan after completing an "anti-terrorist" operation that helped to restore order after unrest forced the government to resign and many of the elite to flee.

At a ceremony outside a military barracks in Almaty, Kazakhstan's largest city and the focus of the mission, soldiers from all five member states of the Kremlin-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) sang their national anthems and saluted their flags.

They are mainly withdrawing through Almaty airport which has now reopened to civilian flights, a week after it was attacked. The first flights are scheduled from Colombo, Sri Lanka, and Seoul, South Korea.

In a statement, Russia's ministry of defence said: "The transfer of socially significant objects guarded by peacekeepers to the country's law enforcement agencies has begun."

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev asked for CSTO support last week after unrest, sparked by demonstrations over a rise in fuel prices in the west of the country, spread across Kazakhstan. He has praised the CSTO's decisive role in taking over guard duties at strategic sites to allow Kazakh soldiers to fight "terrorists" and restore order after armed men ransacked government offices and looted shops in Almaty.

A burnt car is seen by the mayors office on fire. - Valery Sharifulin/TASS
A burnt car is seen by the mayors office on fire. - Valery Sharifulin/TASS

Vladimir Putin, Russia's President, has also said that the 2,500-strong deployment to Kazakhstan proved the CSTO's mettle.

Alongside Russia, the other members of the CSTO are Belarus, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. Mr Tokayev has said it will take 10 days for all the soldiers to withdraw from Kazakhstan.

This was the military alliance's first deployment since it was set up in the 1990s. It previously declined other opportunities to deploy, including intervening to stop ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan in 2010 that killed hundreds of people.

Human rights groups said that after its intervention in Kazakhstan the CSTO risks being labelled as a military alliance whose brief is to prop up allies of Mr Putin, rather than one that intervenes for humanitarian reasons.

Russian servicemen with the CSTO peacekeeping forces board a homebound Ilyushin Il-76 strategic airlifter at Almaty International Airport. - Gavriil Grigorov/TASS
Russian servicemen with the CSTO peacekeeping forces board a homebound Ilyushin Il-76 strategic airlifter at Almaty International Airport. - Gavriil Grigorov/TASS

Human Rights Watch also said that the Kazakh government had failed to protect human rights during the unrest.

“With dozens, perhaps hundreds killed and thousands in detention, the human rights concerns over the crisis in Kazakhstan are acute and need to be urgently addressed,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

Last week, Kazakh officials said that 164 people had been killed in the unrest and around 9,000 arrested.

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